Blacksmith Brides

Blacksmith Brides--Front CoverBlacksmith Brides: 4 Love Stories Forged by Hard Work

Hearts Are Forged by the Flames of Gentle Love in 4 Historical Stories
 
Worth Fighting For (1774—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) by Pegg Thomas
Talk of war has surrounded Meg McCracken, including her father and four brothers. Alexander Ogilvie doesn’t care about the coming war; his plans are to head west. When Meg comes to his smithy, sparks fly off more than the forge. But can they build anything during unstable times?
 
Forging Forever (1798—Cornwall, England) by Amanda Barratt
When the actions of Elowyn Brody’s father forces her into a marriage of convenience with blacksmith Josiah Hendrick, she consigns love to a bygone dream. But as Elowyn comes to know her new husband, her flame of hope begins to burn again. Until heartache threatens to sever the future forged between them.
 
A Tempered Heart (1861—Charlottesville, Virginia) By Angela K. Couch
Buried under a debt that is not his own, Thomas Flynn’s only focus is gaining his freedom. He has learned to keep his head low and not pay attention to the troubles of others until a peculiar boy and his widowed mother show him how empty his life has become. After years of protecting her son from slights and neglect of the people closest to them, Esther Mathews is not sure how to trust the local blacksmith with her child…or her heart.
 
A Malleable Heart (California—1870) by Jennifer Uhlarik
A hard-hearted blacksmith finds acceptance with the town laundress. But when his past comes to call, will he resist love’s softening or allow God to hammer his ruined life into something of worth?

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Sample of A Malleable Heart:

Chapter 1

Elverton, California—1870

Leah Guthrie wrapped a wisp of hair around her finger as she stared at the wagon wheel. Broken. She loosed a frustrated sigh and looked across the town in the valley down the road.

“I suppose it was too much to ask that this rickety old wagon hold together until I finished my trip, wasn’t it, Lord?” At least she’d broken down on a somewhat flat spot, rather than on the incline.

The wagon had seen hard use on the hilly roads in and around Elverton week after week these last five years. The nagging thought that something would soon go wrong had plagued her for days now, though she’d prayed the fear was unfounded. Unfortunately not.

Her stomach knotted. There was no money to pay for its fixing.

A slow shiver inched up her spine, though Leah forced her gaze to the tall white steeple peeking over the treetops a few blocks away. “All right, Father. You’ve allowed this, so I trust You have a plan for how I might pay for this unexpected repair. Please show me.” Please.Before the worry undid her.

Leah gave the wisp of hair another twist, pulling the wavy strand taut as she considered options. Her wagon was loaded with her customers’ dirty laundry. Today was collection day, and she’d just needed to gather three more batches before she could return home and check on Mae. Dare she leave the loaded wagon to walk to the blacksmith shop on the far edge of town? If so, she risked that some troublemaker would steal something from the bed. What else could she do? She must get home, and there was too much to carry with her.

She gave her big horse, Samson, a pat. “I’m trusting you, you big brute. Don’t let anyone bother our wagon. Understand?”

As if on cue, he tossed his head, and Leah descended toward Elverton. She was nearly to the bottom of the road when a wagon turned and started the climb. As it drew nearer, neighbors Tom and Grace Peterson came into view. Mr. Peterson slowed his team as he drew alongside.

“Leah.” He nodded. “Everything all right?”

She offered the grizzled, salt-and-pepper-haired man a crooked smile. “Not entirely, sir. The wheel broke. I was heading into town to ask the blacksmith for help.”

Mrs. Peterson flicked a sideways glance at her husband and whispered something.

Mr. Peterson was quick to nod. “Have you had any dealings with Bo Allen before, darlin’?”

“No, sir.”

Mr. Peterson ducked his head with an apologetic look. “Have you any money to pay for the repair?”

Leah mustered a brave smile. “God’s provided what we need.” At least she hoped He had.

“Why don’t you let my Tom go in your stead?” Mrs. Peterson asked. “Once he’s talked to Mr. Allen, we’ll drive you on home.”

“I appreciate the offer. Honest, I do, but…” After Papa’s passing, she’d made a point of asking as little of her friends and neighbors as possible. Caring for her younger sisters and brother was her responsibility.

“Darlin’, Bowdrie Allen’s an ornery cuss,” Mr. Peterson continued. “I’d feel a heap more comfortable if you’d at least let me go with you.”

She’d heard the stories—how he often argued with his customers and had even broken Sean McCready’s nose in such a quarrel. Worse, there were rumors he’d spent time in prison…for murder. Despite her apprehension, she was more than capable of talking to the reclusive blacksmith herself. “If you really want to help, I have three more orders to collect in town. Would you allow me to put those I’ve already taken in, in your wagon, then wait while I gather the last few?”

They both nodded, their reticence obvious.

After transferring everything into the Petersons’ wagon and tying Samson to the back, they descended into Elverton and stopped a short way from the smithy.

“Thank you both for your help. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Leah hurried to the shop.

Long before she reached the building, the loud, rhythmic clang of hammer against anvil punctuated the quiet street. Her heart pounded a little as she neared. Reaching the wide double doorway, she stared inside the large opening. The red glow of the forge lit the far side of the room where the blacksmith worked, back to the door. The pungent odors of burning coal and hot metal gave the place an eerie stench, as if she stood at the gaping maw of Hades itself.

“Mr. Allen?” She called, loud enough to be heard above the clanging.

The rhythm didn’t change, nor did Mr. Allen flinch.

“Pardon me, sir.”

When no answer came, Leah huffed and stepped through the open doorway. “Helloooo?”

Finally, the cadence stopped, and the broad-shouldered man laid the hammer aside and stepped to his left, the object he’d been pounding still in his gloved hand. He dropped the long, narrow piece into a bucket, and a mighty hiss filled the sudden silence as steam rose around it.

“Excuse me, Mr. All—”

“I heard you,” the blacksmith growled as he snatched a rag from his back pocket.

“Then why didn’t you answer me?”

He finally turned and approached, mopping his face with the cloth as he did. “Didn’t you hear me hammering?”

Was he joshing? His intense hazel-eyed glare didn’t seem to indicate any humor in the query.

Leah planted a fist on her hip. “Well, of course I did. Rather hard to miss that, don’t you think?”

“Yes, I woulda thought…” He ran the cloth over his sweaty blond locks, then shoved the piece of fabric into his pocket again. “But it seemed your ears were stopped and your eyes dim. You just kept yammerin’ on despite all the signs that I was busy just then.”

“Yammer—” Leah’s jaw hinged open a bit, but she quickly snapped it shut and pushed a sardonic smile to her lips. “Well, then. Forgive me for yammering at you, sir. How would you suggest a potential customer alert you when she arrives at your shop and you appear to be busy just then?”

As Mr. Allen stepped past her to the door, he bit ae fingertip of his glove and pulled his hand free of its confines. Then, he rapped soundly on the silvery wooden slats and faced the interior of the building. Snatching the glove from his teeth, he looked her way. “She could knock and wait to be acknowledged.”

Leah’s ire sparked, and she marched across the room to the anvil. “And you, sir, could answer like this.” She picked up his hammer, clanged it twice against the anvil, and spoke as she turned to face the door. “I’ll be with you in a m—”

The solid wall of Bowdrie Allen’s chest, covered in a tight-fitting if sweat-dampened gray Henley, blocked her view. She slowly looked up, gaze traveling past his muscled shoulders and blond beard until it rested on his stern expression. Leah’s hand strayed to her hair as she wrapped a loose strand around her index finger once again.

“Give me the hammer.”

Whether the heat filling her cheeks and trickling into her lower extremities was from the blazing fire nearby or something else, she wasn’t sure, but she suddenly wished to be standing near the door and its nice cross-breeze. Looking away, she passed the heavy tool to its owner.

“Now…what is it you need, ma’am?” He made no attempt to step away, leaving her pinned between him and the anvil.

She gave the strand of hair another twist. Just where was she supposed to look? He towered over her, so meeting his eyes required craning her neck at an uncomfortable angle. And it was hardly proper to stare at his broad chest. She finally pinned her focus on his Adam’s apple.

“I have a broken wheel on my wagon. I was hoping you could fix it.”

“I can—either fix it or replace it. It’ll be ready in five days.”

“Five days?” Despite the discomfort, she bent her neck to look him in the face. “I can’t go that long without my wagon.”

“You want it sooner, you can pay double and I’ll put you to the front of the line.”

“Double?” Her throat knotted, and she gulped. This was all starting to feel too familiar. “I suppose that answers that. Please let me pass.”

He folded his arms, hammer resting against his shoulder. “Do you want me to do the work or not?”

Feeling overly warm and a bit claustrophobic, she darted a glance to the open floor space beyond. If she could just get there… “Please, Mr. Allen, let me pass.”

“Is that a no, then?”

Leah’s heart pounded. She sucked in another breath to quell her panic, but when the feeling grew, she shoved both hands against his solid biceps and forced him backward by half a step. It was enough. She wiggled out from the confined area into the open, only her head was spinning, and she stumbled. To keep from falling, she crouched low and braced a hand against the plank floor.

Lord, please don’t let me pass out…

***

Bo Allen turned to see the woman sink to the floor, her dress billowing around her trim frame as she gulped for breath. His chest seized. Was she sick? He dropped the hammer and crossed the three paces to where a straight-backed chair occupied the corner. He dragged it to her, then gently took her elbow.

“Here, ma’am. Sit.” He applied gentle pressure to her arm until she rose and took the offered seat.

No sooner was she settled than she wrapped her arms about her middle and began to rock, a low whimper peppering her rapid breaths.

“Do you need a doctor or something?”

She clamped her eyes tight and gave him no answer.

“Ma’am?”

At her continued silence, a distant memory niggled at the edge of his mind. Latching onto the recollection of his own mother’s ministrations, he hurried back to the corner, grabbed a clean rag from the shelf, and dunked it in the pail of drinking water he’d drawn. Bo squeezed the excess from the rag as he scurried back to her side. Despite his dripping hands, he gathered the loose red-blonde curls trailing down the woman’s back and draped the cloth against her neck. She flinched slightly but continued to rock. His hand pressed gently against the rag, Bo squatted to peer up at her high cheekbones and porcelain skin.

Should he leave her to fetch Doc Bates? Something was obviously wrong, but if he left her alone, would she stumble the wrong way toward the forge? The woman wasn’t in possession of her faculties just then. Concern froze him to the spot.

After moments, her breathing slowed, and the rocking stopped. He kept his hand clamped against the wet cloth until, finally, her eyes fluttered open. Only then did he release his grip and settle his forearm against his knee for balance.

“Ma’am? You all right?”

She stared blankly for another moment before she finally straightened, releasing her grip on her midsection. She blinked a few times without ever looking his way, slowly reaching to pull the cloth free from under her hair.

“Hey.” Bo brushed the back of a hand against her knee, hoping to gain her attention.

The woman drew a deep breath and turned his way. Her light brown eyes sparked with…was it ire or humor? “I heard you, sir, but I couldn’t answer. I was busy just then.”

Her pointed words lodged like a well-aimed arrow. Definitely a sharp-witted humor. Few women ventured into his shop, and fewer still stood up to his ornery nature. He rather liked it.

“Reckon I deserved that retort, didn’t I?”

“Good of you to notice.” She stared at the wet rag before handing it to him. “Thank you. The cool cloth helped.”

“You sure you’re all right?”

Her pretty features pinked, and she nodded sheepishly.

“What was that? A seizure or something?”

“No.” The pink turned to crimson. “Sometimes, I just grow overly anxious. My heart races, it’s hard to breathe, the room begins to spin.”

“You sure I shouldn’t fetch Doc Bates?”

“Yes.” She peered off to her right, throat working furiously. “It would only be another bill I couldn’t pay.”

The last words were spoken so softly he almost missed them.

She stood. “Thank you for your kindness, Mr. Allen.” Her soft voice shook. “I won’t keep you.”

She brushed past him.

“Wait!”

The sharp word left his mouth before he could stop it.

Her footsteps faltered, and she stopped.

Bo moved in front of her. At the sight of tears brimming against her lower lashes, his heart sank. Had he caused them?

“I, um…” His mind blanked. What on earth had possessed him to call after her? “I don’t even know your name.”

She wiped her eyes and offered a lopsided smile. “Leah. Guthrie.”

“Mrs. Guthrie, I wasn’t looking for trouble. I’d be obliged if you didn’t go home and tell tales to your husband that I reduced you to tears.”

Oh, for Pete’s sake. Had he truly just thrown out such obvious bait?

Get her out of your shop before you make a complete fool of yourself.

She patted her cheekbones dry. “You’ve no reason to worry. The only Mr. Guthrie is twelve and stands half your height. My little brother is a rapscallion sometimes, but I can’t imagine him coming to pick a fight with you.”

“You’re…not married?”

What in heaven’s name was making his tongue wag so?

Miss Guthrie stood taller, jutting her chin a little. “No, sir. I’ve been raising my younger sisters and brother since our pa died. There’s been no time to wed.”

She was raising her brothers and sisters…

“I’ll just go,” she said as the silence grew awkward.

Right. She should before he opened his—

“If I’m not being too forward, how old are they? Your family.”

Stop talking, you fool!

“Like I said, my brother’s twelve. My sisters are fourteen and eighteen.”

Miss Guthrie looked about twenty-two, twenty-three. As beautiful and spirited as she was, she’d surely attract the attention of the unmarried men in the area. “So why haven’t you left the young ones with your eighteen-year-old sister and gone your own way?”

As soon as the words left his mouth, he cursed himself roundly.

She cocked her head and furrowed her brow, eyes flashing. “Not that it’s any of your concern, but for one, Mae’s health won’t allow her to care for Hope and Ethan. She needs care herself.”

He also furrowed his brow at that bit of news, but she hurried on.

“And, for another, what member of a loving family would abandon everyone to seek her own happiness? That would be the height of selfishness.”

“Yes, miss, but I’ve seen it before.” One too many times.

She folded her arms across her chest. “I assure you, you won’t see it here. As hard as it’s been to scrape by feeding four mouths on a laundress’s income, I’ll not leave my family to seek my own comfort and happiness.”

He had overstepped. “Forgive me. I didn’t mean to offend, nor was I purposely casting aspersions on your character.” Though in hindsight, that’s exactly what he’d done, blast it all. There were reasons he kept to himself, and this was one. “Don’t reckon a caring woman such as yourself would abandon her kin.”

“Not on your life. And speaking of, it’s past time I get home to Mae.” She nodded to the wet rag still in his hand. “Thank you again for the cool cloth.” Miss Guthrie turned.

Bo groaned inwardly. He couldn’t let her leave in a snit. Though his customers often left upset. Why he cared whether this one did, he couldn’t quite explain.

“Um, about your wagon…”

She rounded on him, mild frustration in her expression. “The truth is, Mr. Allen, I can’t afford to pay single, much less double. I should’ve known better than to ask. I am sorry to have wasted your time.”

When she again turned, he cleared his throat. “You said you’re a laundress?”

She nodded over her shoulder. “Yes.”

“You the one I heard picks up and delivers the clothes to her customers?”

Miss Guthrie turned slowly. “Yes.”

“Then you really can’t do without your wagon, can you?”

The frustration dissolved from her features, and her voice softened. “No.”

“How ‘bout a trade? In exchange for you doing my laundry, I’ll charge you the going rate for a wheel repair or replacement—whichever it takes—and I’ll have it ready by tomorrow afternoon. I’ll even bring it to you.”

Her eyes went wide. “You…you would do that?”

For a woman who’d willingly saddle herself with three younger brothers and sisters? “Yeah, I would. Just…don’t tell anyone.” He shrugged a little sheepishly. “I’ve got a reputation to uphold, y’know.”

A slow smile blossomed on her lips, and she giggled. “So I’ve heard.” The smile faded all too soon for his liking, and she extended a hand. “You have a deal.”